Manitoba childhood primary vaccinations declined up to 30% during COVID-19 pandemic

Data from Manitoba Health shows childhood primary vaccinations declined by up to 30 per cent during the last year. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

Doctors are urging parents to ensure their children are up to date on their vaccinations after seeing a large decrease in routine primary immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first year after a baby is born, they’re scheduled for multiple routine immunizations and check-ups. However in some cases those vaccinations declined by up to 30 per cent during the last year, Manitoba Health data obtained by Global News shows.

Read more: Canada could see resurgence of potentially deadly childhood respiratory virus this summer: report

“The implications are significant,” Manitoba Medical Officer of Health and vaccines, Dr. Tim Hilderman told Global News.

“About 20 per cent of kids will require catch ups and and it may be more than that.”

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Manitoba’s publicly funded infant immunizations include Rotavirus (given at two, four, and six months of age) , Pertussis, or whooping cough, (given at two, four, six, and 18 months), and a first dose of MMRV vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella, varicella) at one year.

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Manitoba Health data shows primary vaccinations declined in babies born during the first ten months of the pandemic compared to the year before by:

  • 20% for second dose Pertussis and 30% for third dose Pertussis
  • 15 % for second dose Rotavirus and 23% for third dose Rotavirus
  • 16% for MMRV

“It puts these kids who are unimmunized or under-immunized at increased risk, especially as interactions become more frequent and as people get back into the normal routine,” Hilderman said.

Read more: Canada likely to see ‘resurgence’ of common viruses among children after COVID-19: experts

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“So there is a potential, due to the lower immunization rates as a result of the pandemic, for these diseases to circulate again and put these kids at risk.”

Pediatric infectious disease experts said it is concerning because of the potentially severe outcomes these infections can have on children.

“(With whooping cough) newborns, if they get this infection, not only do they suffer from this lingering cough, but some of them can have complications like pauses in their breathing or pneumonia develop after it that can make them sick enough to be admitted to hospital,” Dr. Jacqueline Wong said.

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Where as impacts of other infections, like the measles, may not appear until later in life.

“Some of those complications don’t come about until decades later. So the timing of these consequences and severity can really vary from infection to infection,” she said.

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The decline is partially being attributed to many physician visits being done virtually instead of in person during the pandemic and public health nurses, who often administer shots, being redirected to help with COVID-19.

Read more: Will Canada’s COVID-19 babies face ‘immunity debt’? Here’s what experts say

“Public health nurses were significantly impacted in our ability to provide immunizations, especially in the rural areas, because of the time and energy required to do the case and contact management during COVID,” Hilderman said.

But Wong said preventative health cannot be put on the backburner if we want to keep children safe.

“If someone who’s not protected brings that infection into a community and you have kids that haven’t caught up on their vaccinations we could still have this risk of outbreaks happening,” she said.

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While Manitoba has not seen an increase in outbreaks, Wong said doctors have been watching it happen in other countries around the world.

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“Sometimes we forget about other infections that are out there still globally and can be brought into our local communities and the risks that those pose to children,” she said. “That’s why these vaccinations exist. But sometimes there’s another health issue that takes over people’s minds and we forget about the importance of preventative health for other things.”

Read more: Influenza, respiratory illness take early hold in Manitoba

Public Health said Manitoba has a healthy stockpile of primary vaccinations available and parents should try to get children caught up as quickly as possible.

“Get the child in, get back on schedule and do it sooner rather than later,” Hilderman said. “As long as it doesn’t persist and people take the initiative and get their kids caught up, we should be good.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, visit our coronavirus page.

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